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Goodyear Outlasts Competition : Auto racing: He wins Marlboro 500 at Michigan International Speedway when faster drivers run into engine problems.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

One of racing’s oldest adages, “To finish first, first you have to finish,” never proved truer than Sunday in the Marlboro 500.

It didn’t pay to take the lead at Michigan International Speedway, Indy cars’ fastest track. First, pole-sitter Nigel Mansell, then Michael Andretti and finally, in the dying stages of the 500-mile race, Raul Boesel and Al Unser Jr., lost the lead.

When Unser, the final Penske driver running, came smoking into the pits with a blown engine 20 laps from the finish, he turned the lead over to Scott Goodyear, who was had been a lap behind. The nearest cars to Goodyear’s Lola-Ford were the unsponsored pair of Arie Luyendyk and Dominic Dobson.

For the final 20 laps, that’s the way they ran as an estimated 75,000 wondered what fate might befall Goodyear, a Canadian whose only previous Indy car victory came on this two-mile oval two years ago.

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But that’s the way they finished--Goodyear, then Luyendyk a lap down, and Dobson two laps back in his highest Indy car finish.

Even Goodyear had problems earlier while leading. He stayed out one lap too long and ran out of fuel in the second turn, barely coasting to his pits. It put him a lap back of Boesel and Unser.

“It was the worst feeling I think I ever had in my life, a real pit in the stomach,” Goodyear said. “I knew we weren’t the fastest car out there, but the most important thing is we were there at the end. There are some days when you don’t have to be the quickest.”

Sunday he wasn’t even close. Unser had the fastest lap, 229.199 m.p.h., on lap 122. Goodyear’s fastest was 222.832. Fourteen of the 27 other drivers had faster laps than the winner.

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Several other challengers, notably Mario Andretti, Robby Gordon and Emerson Fittipaldi, also were victims of attrition. Only eight cars were racing when Goodyear took the checkered flag.

Said Teo Fabi, who finished fourth: “It’s a good thing I didn’t finish third. I would have been embarrassed to go the press conference.”

Before Boesel and Unser dropped out only six laps apart, the race was shaping up to be a classic, along the lines of Unser’s victory over Goodyear in the 1992 Indianapolis 500, the closest in history.

“It was a shame for the fans,” Unser said. “Me and Raul were going to have a super race. We were pretty even and I was looking forward to it. When he went out, I turned the boost down and was just cruising. Then it (the engine) just let go.”

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Boesel, who led 120 laps, was disconsolate. He was trying to win the first race in car owner Dick Simon’s 25 years as driver and owner.

“It was a huge disappointment for the entire team,” the Brazilian said. “I led most of the race, I was running a good pace. Several times Little Al put some pressure on us, but I was able to respond with no trouble. Everything was going exactly to the team’s plan. Unfortunately, the engine let go in turn three. It wasn’t to be.”

Eight caution flags for a period of 60 laps kept Goodyear’s winning speed down to 159.800 m.p.h., the slowest since 1986. Among them was a fire in Adrian Fernandez’s car caused when the Mexican driver started to pull out of the pits with the fuel hose still attached. He was doused with buckets of water by the neighboring crew of Mario Andretti before he was burned.

Goodyear’s car is owned by drag racing champion Kenny Bernstein, who was competing at Sears Point Raceway in Sonoma, Calif.

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The race, No. 10 on the 16-event Indy car schedule, was the first in which one of Roger Penske’s drivers failed to finish in the top three--and it came on a track Penske owns.

Fittipaldi was running third when his engine blew late in the race, but the third driver, Paul Tracy, failed to survive a comedy of errors that included overshooting his pit, clipping a tire in the pits that damaged his suspension and dropping out, five laps back of the leaders, with no fuel pressure.

Mansell led the first 26 laps but was the second car out of the race when the throttle linkage stuck on his Ford.

“It just went from being perfect to being flat out everywhere,” the defending series champion said. “I can’t drive it if I can’t stop it. I tried to pull it (the stuck throttle) out with the toe of my foot, but at those speeds it was too scary for me.”

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Notes

Team owner Derrick Walker said Robby Gordon, 25, of Orange has signed a two-year contract extension and will be with the Indy-car team at least through 1997.


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